Feds Designate 23 Counties as Disaster Areas; Aid On Its Way
Gov. Scott Walker announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has deemed a cluster of counties natural disaster areas due to the drought. Financial assistance programs are open to farmers hit hardest by the conditions.
Wisconsin farmers have been doing their best to navigate the parched drought-laden landscape that has stricken a large portion of the state. However, Gov. Scott Walker and the federal government are providing an oasis of sorts for those affected by dry conditions.
Last week, Walker declared a drought emergency for the entire state and requested federal disaster relief for 23 of the most deeply affected counties a day later. Walker on Wednesday announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture followed up and deemed those 23 counties natural disaster areas. The designation allows farmers to apply for low-interest emergency loans.
Waukesha, Milwaukee, Racine, Ozaukee, and Kenosha counties are on the list.
The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority will also begin accepting applications for its Drought Relief Guarantee Program. The program will provide a 90 percent guarantee on all agricultural loans up to $15,000, and reduce existing loan interest payments for farmers in drought-affected areas.
“We are doing everything we can to assist farmers who are losing crops due to the extended period where we saw a lack of rain combined with extreme heat. This is one more option for farmers trying to recover from the drought,” Walker said in a news release Wednesday.
To be eligible for the WHEDA drought assistance program, farmers must be expected to lose 40 percent or more of their crop due to the drought conditions.
“With our long history of supplying agricultural loans, WHEDA can step up and provide critical relief to agriculture producers who are essential to the success of our state’s economy,” said WHEDA Executive Director Wyman Winston.
Walker said state-owned lands would also be opened up for hay and grazing. Walker’s state of emergency declaration earlier this month expedited the permitting process for farmers to temporarily use lake or stream water for irrigation.
U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl applauded the USDA’s announcement for the state, and urged the House of Representatives to pass a new Farm Bill that includes program updates and disaster relief for areas hit hardest by extreme weather. The bill is set to expire in September.